Jorge Luis Borges and his sister Norah Borges, the painter and engraver, spent part of their Spanish years (1919-1921) on the island of Majorca. They arrived in Spain with their parents, having travelled from Geneva where they had lived since 1914 and had both saturated themselves with modernity, mainly expressionism, on the banks of Lake Léman. Once in Spain, that knowledge was augmented by the recently founded ultraist movement, which they embraced with enthusiasm, Jorge Luis as a poet and essayist, and Norah as a painter and engraver. That commitment was to lead Borges to contribute to magazines such as Alfar (La Coruña), Baleares (Palma de Mallorca), the Sevillian Grecia, and Reflector and Ultra (Madrid) and, after his return to Buenos Aires in 1921, to end up spreading ultraismo an entire literary generation in Argentina after renouncing what he considered to be youthful folly. His sister, the artist, was also to be found in publications such as those mentioned, plus another that could be added to the list: Ronsel (Lugo), where she coincided with colleagues such as Alberto, Rafael Barradas, Francisco Bores, Salvador Dalí, Robert and Sonia Delaunay, José Gutiérrez Solana, Wladyslaw Jahl, Francisco Mateos, Benjamín Palencia, Marjan Paszkiewicz, Carlos Sáenz de Tejada…
The piece by Norah, from the Es Baluard museum collection, is a beautiful relic: a fresco in pale colours portraying a mother and child, in a very everyday setting, painted by Norah Borges in 1920 on the staircase of the Hotel del Artista in Valldemossa where the family was staying during their second and final sojourn in Majorca. This fresco was covered over for many years but ended up being forcibly removed from the wall and acquired by Pere A. Serra, who in 2004 deposited it in the art gallery in Palma de Mallorca which was, incidentally, the city where Norah Borges painted a second fresco (in the Hotel Continental) which has since disappeared, in collaboration with the Swedish artist Swen Westman. If her brother drank from the well-spring of German expressionist poetry, plus Walt Whitman and Romain Rolland, she, in parallel, learned a great deal from the engravers of that same school and also from the Flemish artist Frans Masereel, as can be seen in this painting. This knowledge, and that gained from Marie Laurencin and other female European modernists of the time, provides the point of departure for a work in which the memory of childhood plays a fundamental role, and in which Spanish themes would immediately be joined by those of the New World.
A postcard of Toledo sent by the siblings, and dated 1920, is the Biblioteca Nacional piece selected for sharing the dialogue about the fresco. The ultraist poet had been themain spokesman for his Argentinian colleague during the family’s stay in the Andalusian capital (the winter of 1919-1920), and it was he who took him to the editorial offices of Grecia magazine whose director was the colourful Isaac del Vando-Villar, to whom Borges was to dedicate derisive words in his more mature years. His Himno del mar (‘Hymn of the Sea’) appeared in issue 37 of Grecia on 31 December 1919 and was the first poemin print by the person who is now justifiably considered to be one of themost universally valued in the arts of all time. A poem heavily impregnated with Rubén Darío (and Walt Whitman, mentioned earlier), similar to those written at the time by Adriano del Valle himself, who was taking the great leap from the clarion calls of modernism to ultraism, a trend his friend from Buenos Aires also adopted with enthusiasm, although he later lost faith in it and, generally, in anything that smacked of the avantgarde, as I have already mentioned. In the magazine, Norah Borges was the subject of impassioned tributes from the Sevillian, who was wooing her at the time, although the man she finally married was Guillermo de Torre, leader of ultraism in Madrid, who in 1923 had described her as a ‘futuristic female’ in the composition he dedicated to her in Hélices, his only collection of poems. On a previous occasion I wrote that if a novel were to be written and a protagonist invented who was the friend first of Federico García Lorca at the University of Granada, then Jorge Luis Borges in ultraist Seville, and then Fernando Pessoa in the Lisbon of Contemporánea magazine (a city he visited on his honeymoon), the reader would protest at such an improbability. However, that character did actually exist: it was Adriano del Valle, a poet who was to wait until 1934 before publishing his first magnificent collection of poems entitled Primavera portátil (‘Portable Springtime’), which was published in Paris in a very small print run and illustrated with coloured lithographs by Eugenio d’Ors. Gerardo Diego did not include this poet in either of the two subsequent editions (1932, 1934) of his canonical anthology, which defined a time when they had both had similar life experiences, but during which the Sevillian, unlike the Cantabrian, had not had any book published. He was a poet who was to become one of the leading intellectuals on the pro-Franco side in the Spanish Civil War, as indeed Gerardo Diego was. All these facts explain the unjust oblivion his name has fallen into and the fact that none of his work is in print today, except for a volume containing his writings about Fernando Villalón.
On their return to Buenos Aires with their parents in 1921, Jorge Luis and Norah Borges did all they could to make the new Ultraist movement take root there. The first sign, which appeared that same year, was the ‘mural magazine’ Prisma, to which Adriano del Valle was a contributor. Two issues of this publication, copies that belonged to him, can be consulted in Valencia at the Institut Valencià d’Art Modern (IVAM). Then came Proa, which was a copy of the Madrid magazine Ultra during its first phase. In 1923 Norah Borges designed the cover for her brother’s first book, Fervor de Buenos Aires (‘Fervour of Buenos Aires’), in which he created a masterly creolisation of ultraism. It was, in fact, Ramón Gómez de la Serna who reviewed Fervor de Buenos Aires in the Madrid-based magazine Revista de Occidente, where he mentions the artist with whom, in the Buenos Aires of 1990, the writer of this article held a lengthy conversation about her ultraist years.
(Juan Manuel Bonet)